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August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and while vaccines are important for people of all ages, they’re vital to the Defense Department’s fighting force, the director of the Military Vaccine Agency, Vaccine Healthcare Centers Networks, said.
Army Col. (Dr.) Margaret Yacovone emphasized that vaccinations are safe and effective, and without them, debilitating diseases, and even death, can occur.
“[About] 46,000 Americans … and 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable illnesses each year,” she said.
Studies also have shown no evidence that vaccinating children causes autism, Yacovone pointed out. Failing to inoculate children for childhood diseases also puts other children at risk, she added.
“Vaccines have had tremendous success,” Yacovone said. And while many diseases have been eradicated from the United States, some, such as measles and pertussis, have reappeared because of complacency and people who choose to not vaccinate, she said, noting that measles still accounts for 169,000 deaths each year worldwide.
Pertussis – also called “whooping cough” – also has made resurgence for the same reasons, the doctor said, noting that because of complacency, vaccine manufacturers have added the pertussis vaccine to the inoculations for diphtheria and tetanus. Yacovone said it’s important for pregnant women, health care and day care workers to get the “Tdap” – tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccination.
While infants and children have developing immune systems and need early childhood vaccinations, the older population should consider getting the shingles shot to prevent or lessen the potential for the painful resurgence of the virus that causes chicken pox, she said. Another shot for older people or those with compromised respiratory systems is for pneumonia. And immunizations such as the vaccine for meningitis and the human papillomavirus are available for adolescents, she added.
Most critical is the need for all age groups to get the annual influenza vaccine, Yacovone said. “[Everyone] 6 months and older should get flu vaccine," she said. "[Influenza] mutates rapidly and develops new strains.” It’s particularly important for pregnant women to get the flu shot to protect themselves and their unborn babies, she added.
Countless days are lost from school and work due to vaccinations not being up to date, the doctor said. And in a global society where traveling from country to country is common, unvaccinated travelers can contract U.S.-eradicated diseases and bring them back home, she added.
“It’s important for people to consult with their health care providers to determine which immunizations are best for them,” she said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)